Taking the NHS into the internet age: three reasons why FHIR is not just for techies - InterSystems


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Taking the NHS into the internet age: three reasons why FHIR is not just for techies

Should FHIR mean something to doctors, nurses, and patients? And what about small businesses? InterSystems healthcare executive director David Hancock believes so. The INTEROpen vendor co-chair gives just three of the reasons why.

With the sometimes complicated technical language that surrounds the world of NHS IT, a practising doctor or nurse might not show much interest in terms like HL7 FHIR – or Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources – as it is known in full. But this small four-letter acronym could change the lives of patients and health and care practitioners alike.

FHIR, at its basics, is one of the newest interoperability standards around in healthcare. It takes the best of its predecessors and builds on them with the aim of helping information to flow and different IT systems to talk to each other. But FHIR is also a tool to rapidly advance joined up care and healthcare innovation and has been exciting the NHS technology community for years.

Here are just three reasons why FHIR has caught the imagination of those in the digital health space, and why FHIR should now matter to many more people than healthcare ‘techies’ like me.

Reason one: Bringing healthcare into the internet age

One of the big limitations of previous standards is that they have used approaches specific only to healthcare, making it harder to recruit new developers with the right knowledge. Or to attract innovative offerings from small businesses that might make a big difference to patient’s lives.

FHIR fundamentally changes this and will allow healthcare technology to move into the 21st Century.

It does this by supporting something called REST – or to give this its full name a representational state transfer. That might sound just like another piece of technical jargon, but REST is basically the technology of the internet.

This opens new possibilities for healthcare technologies to talk to systems outside of the health and care environment. And could make health and care a far more attractive place to work.

Most computing graduates coming out of university will know all about REST. Being able to bring great and highly demanded developer talent into healthcare will now be far, far easier – meaning there will be more people ready and willing to develop technologies that can be really helpful to clinicians.

We could also see real gains for innovations based on tackling all sorts real problems encountered in our hospitals and surgeries as small businesses focussed on new development will too be able to more easily recruit developers who already understand the standards being used.

Reason two: What if your ambulance crew could see your GP data?

So, let’s give just one example of where FHIR is already delivering tools of real clinical and patient benefit.

Patients might assume that when an ambulance crew shows up at their home, that they can access all kinds of information about them. But in many cases this may simply not be the case – a particularly important limitation in an emergency situation when a life may be on the line.

FHIR has the power to help change that absence of information. It will mean that soon, many ambulance crews will for the first time be able to see GP data as they take their patient to hospital, informing important treatment decisions potentially at the scene, on the journey to hospital and afterwards.

Ambulance trusts are also leveraging FHIR to allow a much faster and smoother transfer of care once they get to hospital, meaning data from the ambulance record can automatically flow into the hospital system. The time saving potential could negate potential delays completing the hand over, allowing ambulance crews to attend to their next patient sooner, as well as ensuring all the information that needs to reach a busy A&E professional does so.

Reason three: What if parents had a digital version of their Redbook

It’s nearly the year 2020 and still new parents up and down the country are given a physical ‘Redbook’ that they have to keep safe, and remember to take to each of their child’s key appointments until they reach the age of five.

Formally known as the Personal Child Health Record, the Redbook charts key events and developments in that child’s health.

But imagine if a parent didn’t have to worry about that going missing? Or forgetting to bring it to an appointment as they struggle to get out of the door on time?

Now, thanks to a project utilising FHIR, that is possible. The eRedbook has already been developed, meaning parents will no longer need to carry around this crucial document.

Endless reasons

If I was to explore all the potential reasons and examples of why FHIR should mean so much to so many people, this would be an endless article. But the point is that FHIR can now really fast-track the long talked about agenda for joined up heath and care. And that is not techy at all.


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